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Rena Drehmel, geb. Emanuel, um 1918
Rena Drehmel, geb. Emanuel, um 1918
© Privat

Renata Rahel Drehmel (née Emanuel) * 1903

Gärtnerstraße 117 (Eimsbüttel, Hoheluft-West)

JG. 1903
"VERLEGT" 15.4.1943
TOT 11.6.1943

Renata Rahel Drehmel, née Emanuel, born on 9 May 1903, transported on 15 Apr. 1943 from the "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt” Langenhorn to the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, died there on 11 June 1943

Gärtnerstrasse 117

When her husband Fritz suddenly passed away on 14 Apr. 1942 at the age of only 49, Renata Rahel Drehmel’s life fell apart entirely. A few months later, at the age of 39, she attempted to commit suicide. On 3 Aug. 1942, she was admitted to the Hamburg Israelite Hospital on Johnsallee with a diagnosis of poisoning with sleep-inducing medication. As recently as Feb. 1942, she had lost her two half-sisters Rosa and Frieda in short succession (see entry on the Emanuel family). That at least is the information documented by the medical file started upon her admission to the Israelite Hospital. These events had already badly affected Rena, as she was usually called. The medical file also contains the detail that she had suffered from "Saint Vitus’ dance” (Sydenham’s chorea). This term, still common at the time, for Huntington’s disease designates a hereditary nervous disease whose symptoms include movement disorders and psychological changes. In addition, Rena appears to have been "easily excitable all the time” and frequently to have suffered from "nervous fits with uncontrollable crying and screaming.”

Renata Rahel was born as the second-oldest daughter of the Jewish Emanuel family in Hamburg. Her father Iwan, born in Hamburg in 1876, was a watchmaker and had married Franziska Horwitz, just about one year his senior, in 1901. His parents were Philipp and Bertha, née Kreiner; Franziska was the daughter of the Jewish trader Samuel Horwitz and his wife Hendel from the Weinberg family. After the wedding, having lived with her parents until then, she moved in with her husband to Mathildenstrasse 15 in today’s Karolinen quarter. In short succession, Franziska gave birth to three daughters: Bertha Beate, Renata Rahel, and Hertha. However, the marriage of Franziska and Iwan Emanuel was not a happy one. After about eight years, it was divorced legally effective on 22 Dec. 1909, only a few days following the birth of Iwan’s first son, Paul Philipp.

Already on 20 Dec. 1909, Iwan Emanuel, by then 32 years old, married a second time: Lea Andrade, called Ella, who was two years his junior. He already lived with her at Bellealliancestrasse 41. The fact that he lived in a bigamous marriage for two days was apparently owing to bureaucracy. The general marriage register indicates as the date for his second marriage "20/22 Dec. 1909.” Together with his second wife, Iwan Emanuel had another three daughters, Rena’s half-sisters Rosi, Frieda, and Irmgard. Rena’s mother, too, got married a second time: in May 1910, to the merchant Joseph Andrade. Three years later, Rena lost her mother. Franziska Andrade, former married name Emanuel, died in the Hamburg Israelite Hospital in Sept. 1913.

Rena Emanuel grew up in Eimsbüttel. When she married the commercial clerk Fritz Hermann Karl Drehmel at the Eimsbüttel records office at Weidenallee 14 on 9 Mar. 1928, both lived with Rena’s father and his second wife Ella at Margaretenstrasse 15. Since 1917, Iwan Emanuel also owned an appraiser’s store in this house, working as a buyer and seller of furniture, household effects, and various types of goods. He had already given up his trained occupation as a watchmaker by 1908. The year his daughter got married, however, he also closed the business on Margaretenstrasse and began, as a 50-year old, to work as a longshoreman in the Port of Hamburg: Operating a handcart, he transported piece goods from the ships to the dockside sheds.

Fritz Drehmel, "not belonging to any church,” was about eleven years older than his wife. For him, too, it was the second marriage. From his first marriage, he had a son named Horst, born on 20 Sept. 1920. In contrast to Rena, he was not a native of Hamburg but came from Klein Mantel – a village near Stettin (Szczecin), which now belongs to Poland and is called Metno Male. At the time, his parents also lived there, Fritz Drehmel and Minna, née Zäpernich.

Some nine months after the wedding, on 31 Jan. 1929, Rena and Fritz Drehmel’s son Werner Ivan was born in Klein Mantel. When Werner was two years old, Rena Drehmel began working in Hamburg as a sales assistant – until her son was enrolled in school and for an income so low that the job probably must have been by the hour. From Easter 1935 onward, Werner attended the Talmud Tora Oberrealschule [a secondary school without Latin] at Grindelhof for three years. This meant quite a long way to school, for by then the Drehmel family lived at Gärtnerstrasse 117. Perhaps his mother brought him to the Grindel quarter and picked him up again. In the spring of 1938, the parents had him change schools, but the name of the new school is not known. Presumably, they wished to take him out of Jewish contexts and enroll him in a non-Jewish school at the beginning of the new school year. As a "half-Jew” ("jüdischer Mischling”), he was still allowed to attend a public school, whereas Jewish children and adolescents were banned from doing so as of Nov. 1938.

Toward the end of the year, two events seem to have worried Rena Drehmel even further: the November Pogrom and, a few days later, the arrest of her sister Frieda, who was taken to the Lichtenburg concentration camp on charges of "racial defilement” ("Rassenschande”). Both incidents prompted Rena to leave the Jewish Community at the end of Nov. 1938 and in addition, to obtain confirmation from the Community in June 1939 that her son was not a member either. Generally, due to the marriage to a non-Jewish husband, she faced relatively little danger, at least by comparison. As of Dec. 1938, her marriage was defined as a "privileged mixed marriage” ("privilegierte Mischehe”), which meant she did not have to wear a "Jews’ star” ("Judenstern”) later on and was protected, like her underage son, from deportation, for the time being.

For three years – from grade 4 to grade 6 – Werner Drehmel was able to attend the other Hamburg educational institution, but in Aug. 1941, he returned to the Talmud Tora School. He stayed there until all Jewish schools were closed on 30 June 1942. His school-leaving certificate indicated in the "remarks” column: "promoted to grade 8.”

At home, grief and fear prevailed. After the mother, Rena Drehmel had already lost her stepmother and Iwan Emanuel also his second wife in May 1939: Ella Emanuel died in the Israelite Hospital as a result of cancer. In 1941, Rena’s half-sister was taken to the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp because of "racial defilement” and in Nov. of that same year, her father Iwan Emanuel was deported to Minsk. Just one day prior to the deportation, he had married a third time, the Jewish woman Margarethe Heimann, the widow of the late Mr. Levor. In early 1942, Rena received news about the death of Frieda and Rosa. Both had been deported via the Lichtenberg concentration camp first to Ravensbrück and then to the Nazi euthanasia killing center in Bernburg, where they – classified as "ballast existences” ("Ballastexistenzen”) – were asphyxiated using gas in Feb. 1942 in the course of "Action 14 f 13.”

Two months later, on 14 Apr. 1942, Rena Drehmel’s husband Fritz suffered a heart attack early that morning, dying in the ambulance that was taking him to the Harbor Hospital. Consequently, Rena Drehmel’s protection through her non-Jewish husband ceased. To be sure, she was protected for a certain period due to her underage, dependent child – however, this became obsolete as soon as Werner was considered Jewish because he had attended a Jewish school. The threat to their existence that she and her son faced was more than Rena Drehmel could bear psychologically. Four months after her husband’s death, she attempted to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills. After her admission to the Hamburg Israelite Hospital in early Aug. 1942, physicians and nursing staff noted down that she often spoke of her husband and refused to believe that he was no longer alive – even though she now wore his wedding band next to hers. Instead, she demanded he be notified so he would come visit her. Repeatedly, she crawled underneath her bed. The "usual dose” of morphine that the doctors administered to her as a tranquilizer caused severe cardiac anxiety with respiratory arrest, which necessitated providing her with oxygen for an extended period.

At the end of Aug. 1942, Rena Drehmel was committed to the "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Langenhorn,” a sanatorium and nursing home, with a diagnosis of "psychosis/manic states of excitability.” She had wanted to jump out of the window, and staff at the Israelite Hospital felt in no position to "guard” her permanently. Two weeks afterward, she was sent home from Langenhorn but only one month later, she was re-admitted. This time she had tried to end her life using gas.

Until mid-April 1943, i.e. eight months overall, Rena Drehmel was at Langenhorn several times for periods of weeks. In the latest instance, she was discharged on 10 Mar. but readmitted that same day. Apparently, at home – since Nov. 1942 the "Jews’ house” ("Judenhaus”) at Rutschbahn 25 a – she had found the order for "resettlement” for herself and her son. That same day, both of them were scheduled to be transported to Theresienstadt.

On 15 Apr. 1943, Rena Drehmel was brought from Langenhorn to the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, where she died only a few weeks later, on 11 June. Nothing is known about the cause of death. Five days later, numerous patients were supposed to be deported from the hospital to Theresienstadt. On 17 June 1943, six days after her death, she was buried in the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery; the grave in burial ground H6, row 1, does not have a gravestone.

Rena Drehmel’s son Werner was compelled in Hamburg to follow the deportation order to Theresienstadt. He had just turned 14. On 12 Mar. 1943, the transport reached the ghetto. Children and adolescents up to 15 years of age lived there, divided up according to the sexes, in separate quarters – up to 40 in one room. Anyone fit to work and at least 13 years old was forced to work ten to twelve hours a day.

Some 20 months later, on 6 Oct. 1944, Werner came to Auschwitz on Transport EO – together with his cousins Marion and Wölfi (see entry on the Emanuel family), who had been in Theresienstadt as well. Immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz, the two little ones were torn from his hands and murdered. Prior to the liberation of the camp by Soviet troops on 27 Jan. 1945, he came back to Theresienstadt on "evacuation” transport no. 20 on 1 May 1945. Of approx. 15,000 children that went through the Theresienstadt Ghetto and were transported further, about 100 survived. Werner Drehmel was among them.

By that time, he was 16 years of age. After the liberation of Theresienstadt, the Jewish DP [displaced persons] camp in the Bavarian town of Deggendorf became his next station. From there, he emigrated to the USA. At Boston University, he studied social education, headed the Stanford Center for Autistic Children from 1962 to 1968, and then worked as, among other things, a family therapist until his retirement. In the context of an exhibition in San Francisco on children who had survived the Holocaust, "Vern” Drehmel, as he was called by then, visited numerous schools as a contemporary witness, speaking about his experience. Until his death on 1 Nov. 2008, he lived together with his wife Robin in San Mateo, California. The two had three children and three grandchildren. In an obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, one could read about him: "He preferred to be optimistic rather than pessimistic, together with friends rather than alone, filled with hope rather than with fear.”

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Frauke Steinhäuser

Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 8; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 3165; ebd., 17935; StaH 352-8/7 Staatskrankenanstalt Langenhorn, Abl. 1995/1, 30421; StaH 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinden 992e 1 Bd 5; Auskunft Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Ravensbrück/Stiftung Brandenburgische Gedenkstätten zu Frieda und Rosa Emanuel per E-Mail am 7.3.2011; StaH 362-6/10 Talmud Tora Schule, StaH 741-4 Fotoarchiv Sa 1248; Auskunft Dr. Michael Wunder/Dr. Harald Jenner zu Rena Drehmels Überweisung nach Berlin und ihrem Tod dort per E-Mail am 17.6.2008; von Rönn u. a., Wege in den Tod; Klee, "Euthanasie" im Dritten Reich; Marek Poloncarz, Die Evaku­ierungstransporte nach Theresienstadt, in: Theresienstädter Studien und Dokumente, Prag, 1999; "Aufbau", 3.8.1945, 24.8.1945 u. 12.10.1945; Theresienstadt Lexikon, ghetto.htm#leben, Zugriff 3.1.2012; htm, "Deggendorf"; San Francisco Chronicle 16.11.2008, S. Z-99; "Children’s Holocaust exhibit in S. F.: Students are ,freaked out‘, saddened by ,Daniel’s Story‘", Zugriff 4.1.2012;, 15.5.1998, Zugriff 4.1.2012; Telefongespräch mit Peggy Parnass (Nichte von Renata Drehmel) am 21.8.2012; Auskunft Dr. Diana Schulle am 28.8.2012; E-Mail-Auskunft Jüdischer Friedhof Weißensee vom 10.9.2012.

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